Tag Archives: silk

Moons over Amami

These special moons are made with an unexpected cloth-a coarse homespun cotton cloth that had a layer of silk mawata stretched across it. I wondered…

Mawata is made from silk cocoons that are softened with hot water and soda ash before stretching them out on a frame. We also know them here as silk hankies. They can be used to spin silk yarn or are often used as quilt batting by stretching 50-100 cocoons into a thick, yet lightweight, layer of wonderful silk batting!

After asking around, the best answer I could find was that the silk mawata was there to help keep the two cloths together so the exterior and interior fabrics wouldn’t slip around. Another use for silk!

I put a dozen of these into the shop.

On the shibori side of things, Asiadyer sent me a couple of images of some shibori scraps he came across. They are a great little study in double arashi. Wrapping my mind around the concept, and the cloth around a pole, I made an attempt. I will make some adjustments and have another go at it. The result I got started out ok, but the second wrapping did not achieve the result I was looking for. Even still, some shibori was made!

These things drive me a bit crazy until I figure them out…

And yes, it’s February! We welcome the approaching Spring, warmer weather, and February moons for the circle. I chose and cut the fabric today. One is some fabulous kimono silk woven and dyed on Amami Oshima. Indigo, tannin and mud dyed then painstakingly woven. Even a small scrap is a treasure. The other is the leftover cloth from a dress I made from a repurposed meisen silk kimono a few years ago.
Links to my previous posts about dyeing and weaving on Amami oshima here and here.

If you want to sign up for the 2023 Moon Circle…here’s the link.

new moons and a shop update

A while back I hosted a zoom workshop where participants and I refashioned a kimono into a more easily wearable garment by shortening and removing sleeves.This project leaves you with some fabric to use later. One of the pieces I reworked was a wonderful hemp unlined summer kimono that was kasuri woven with a wonderful 40’s or 50’s design like meisen. This very bold and colorful piece is now wearable as a lightweight over-jacket. The leftover cloth was set aside until now. I did a little test to see if I liked it to start out the January moon circle. I LOVED IT! wow…what fun. Laying out the cloth for the moons, each one is uniquely fun! Being a bit of an open weave I wondered if the indigo would leak a bit into the moon-it didn’t. And the cloth took the dye beautifully without completely overwhelming the design. Each of course is a bit different.

The other smaller moon this month is indigo dyed onto some beautiful silk jacquard I had been stingily hoarding since I was at the end of the bolt. It has a delicate chrysanthemum (kiku) pattern on a slightly off white (natural) silk. The weight is light- like for a nagajuban (silk under kimono).

While you can join the moon circle anytime, if you want the January moons featured here you need to sign up prior to Jan 30. Thanks to everyone who is currently subscribed and especially to those who joined for a second time!

I also added some items back into the shop- Neko chan kit, indigo treasure packs, and indigo yardage in 3 shades.

lots of inspiration!

The madder I dug is still drying since it’s been so wet here lately. Maybe it will figure in February or March moons. It’s still cold here (for us!) we’re lucky if it gets to 60 and the nights are in the low 40’s. The garagio is still cold and wet! Looking forward to the forecast of ten sunny dry days ahead! Hopefully we will continue to get some rain in the next couple of months. I hope to get at some of the weeds outside. There is a forest of cassia seeds sprouting! Yikes!

On another note, I got up at 2 AM on Tuesday to hear Nobue Higashi’s sericulture lecture on Zoom. It was very interesting! I saw a mulberry field machine that helps pick the mulberry. It claims to be able to do the work of 10 people in collecting mulberry for feeding the silkworms. She also mentioned and showed some images of a machine that is kind of like a ferris wheel for silkworms. As the bins of worms circulate, feeding is easily done to many worms in a smaller space. I understand that the reason these are not in wide use these days is that the parts are not available to repair them when they break down. Hirata san and I once visited a sericulture farm about ten years ago that used this method. It was interesting and I have since wondered why it’s not used more.
She also had a nice section on the commercial hatching and raising of the young silkworms (before they are distributed to the farmers). I knew about this but had never seen the inside of these facilities. If you are interested in this lecture series, you can still sign up (see last post for details).

I’m really looking forward to meeting up with Nobue and all the artisans along our way on the Silk Study Tour to Japan in May. Join us?

Sericulture in Japan Today and Colors by Ken Nordine!

Just a quick update with some fun stuff.

First, last Sunday at Phil’s rehearsal the sound guy Kevin was playing Ken Nordine through the system during setup. I was fascinated! Never knew anything about him nor had I heard his albuns. But I did know that voice- and you probably do too. So I went down the rabbit hole to learn more.
Phil bought us a turntable over the holidays so we could enjoy the hundreds of vinyls we have. It has been so much fun! We not only enjoy the music, the memories invoked, but the album covers and inserts! Took me back to my HS bedroom and the basements of friends on a Friday or Saturday night.
So now I am on the search for Ken Nordine’s album “Colors” which is what Kevin was playing. Some of you may know it but it was new to me and ever so fun! Among other things, Ken Nordine is known for his “word jazz” recordings. His voice is like silk and so communicative! CDs can be found but albums at an affordable price less so. But I am patient… we will see. Until then, I have downloaded the record. Also found the accompanying book for a few bucks. Maybe the grandson will learn colors ala Ken Nordine! One of the people in the audience that day was Carol who by a very weird set of circumstances was a PE and dance instructor at Burbank High when ny SIL (who lives in NZ) and was her PE teacher! Carol and I got to talking and she had this album (Colors) and used it for improv with her dancers back then. She could even recite some of the words all these years later. Great conversation. She’s somewhere in her 80’s now.
Colors…

OK- the next wonderful thing is going to take a bit of explaining and some links for you to check out. If you don’t know of Nobue Higashi, she is the sericulturist we have been visiting since 2015 on the Silk Study Tour. Previous to that, we had been visiting Koyata san’s home where he kept a small cocoonery (I now think he is over 100!). Nobue san’s enterprise has grown and her and her husband may be the youngest serious sericulture farmers in Japan now! They are keeping tradition alive while at the same time creating a very niche market for her customizable and hand reeled silk from the cocoons they raise. It’s a HUGE endeavor that has taken her 20 years to get to this place. Her history is fascinating!
She is giving an online zoom series of 7 lectures on sericulture that begin January 17th. Her lecture series will cover domestic sericulture, it’s history in Japan- mainly focusing on Gunma Prefecture and the connections to Yokohama as it relates to silk exports, silk cocoons and the variety of strains, the history of silk reeling, silk technologies and how they changed and expanded silk in the industrialization of Japan, hand reeling (her specialty) from the Edo period to now, and the cultural aspects of all of the aforementioned! I’m sure I left out something!
Of course the lectures are on JST so for me here they are at 2:30 AM PST- but you will be able to access them for three weeks afterwards. The series cost is ¥14,000 which is about $103 USD. If you are interested in the series, you can sign up here. I had to actually send an email so they could prepare a payment request as the website seems to only allow signups inside Japan. Email is seraph(at)tokai.or.jp

The series is in Japanese but they may try to get some notes done in English afterwards to accompany the lectures. In any case, I am signed up!

If you want a little encouragement, they have shared this hour long bio on Nobue and how she came to do this miraculous thing… then visit the vimeo link. The password is “silkworm” and it does have English subtitles. They have allowed me to share this with you in hopes of spreading this important knowledge.
The series is being hosted by these folks who order custom reeled silk from Nobue which they use as warp for their beautiful woven kudzu cloth. All of this is a labor of love!

Here are some photos of our visits with Nobue and her husband over the years…


We can’t wait to see her again in May on the Silk Study Tour to Japan! We will have a workshop with her at Ton-cara where everyone gets to reel some silk and make silk mawata.

all the signs of Season…

There has been rain! It has also been colder lately. All the signs of season have arrived. For us here that means twinkling lights on houses, sprouts emerging everywhere, narcissus starting to bloom out back, and the annual golden falling of a million ginko leaves carpeting the the back corner of the yard. All the rain barrels are full- 300 gallons of water. Here, that is a blessing indeed!

It seems Time has been passing at warp speed. In that passing some things have been worked on. Some things have been endured. For the worked on:

A bag was made for an order. It is a lovely bag for a long time customer who became a friend over time. So was the psychological connection that I insisted on calling her by my sister’s name for YEARS!! That was the comfort and familial level at which we met. We laughed over it so many times. I finally have trained myself to her actual name at great effort. Have you ever had that happen with someone? Unfortunately, when it arrived it had a failing of a piece of the hardware and I recalled it for repair. It has been repaired and resent in time for gift giving. I appreciate her kind patience with all this. But it is the second photo above I want to bring attention to. I knew I wanted to make this a special bag and selected a long saved silk moth/butterfly mon I had found at a temple sale in Japan several years back. I remember the seller being wary of my purchase since the men’s kimono it was on was in such poor condition. She insisted in showing me all the flaws (virtually falling apart in many ways), but I assured her that I completely understood and that the price was fair and it was the mons I was interested in and that I would use it for scrap and hand sewing projects. We completed the transaction happily. It is an unusual piece as it is a medium grey silk with the finest and lightest katazome pattern in the background. I had not seen one like this before. And the butterfly mon was exquisite and detailed. Done with katazome technique and additionally embellished with fine line drawing. I think it’s pretty old…
Moving along to the third image above, I posted previously some images of sashiko practice. This piece seemed to call out for something “more”. I added french knots at the center of each star in a satisfying orange brick red thread. Done!
And then there has been this bag with an unfinished knitting project from at least ten years ago. I lost track of the pattern and asked my friend Penny to resurrect and reconstruct it. She’s a great regular knitter (as I USED to be), and provided the written pattern for me. I can’t express how satisfying working on this in the here and there has been! It’s been great fun and I have my knitting mojo back! Perfect for my mental plan to spin and dye up some glorious silk knitting yarn. This is some Zara wool we sold when I had a knitting shop (history – haha) and it is a great feeling yarn to knit with- especially on bamboo circular #6 needles. If you are going to knit, make sure you ENJOY the yarn! This is a simple 4 row repeat pattern over a 5 + 2 stitch count and yields a satisfying resulting pattern. I’m almost done now and will be blocking it soon.
Oranges… my favorite holiday ingredient. I picked these fresh navels at my son’s house (got to see the grandson and go to the movies with them!) and made candied orange peel last night- a holiday favorite here. I will make the much sought after orange pecan biscotti tomorrow…. after the dishwasher and under sink plumbing is repaired!!! (this OLD house!)
And lastly, while making the last ribbon order of the year I indulged in making some pleated red organza and made the floral piece pictured. I really love organza for flower making. I will likely do a zoom workshop for it in February.

Moving Time along…

Inspired by the french knots that seemed to be appearing everywhere I looked, I played around with french knots and the moon. It was a happy collaboration. First the sashiko piece, then a gal I have been following on twitter ( Katrin Vates) for some time that does the most intense french knot embroidery I have seen- mainly trees, and then Jude of course recently did some wonderful and simple moons pieces with french knots!
My contribution to end the year of the moon circle is to show you some possibilities with the year of moons. It’s winter, Solstice is two days away, and snow is a possibility! Maybe not here in Southern California, but we can dream…

And in conclusion, the report came back “margins clear” again this time. And I urge you also to take good care of your health, and your bones

Captain, the next door cat, approves this post…

unfolding time…

When I haven’t posted in a while, I hardly know where to start! I looked back just now and see that it’s been nearly TWO MONTHS since the last post. I think that must be a record! Not to worry…
just been busy.

Several things have been going on. First, I organized the itinerary, info and newsletter for the Silk Study Tour To Japan for 2023. I sent out a few waves of email newsletters and right away filled 10 of the 16 spots. If you wanted to look over the details, here is a link to the details. Contact me if you have any questions!

Next, the first post Covid workshop at the Japanese American National Museum was completed last weekend. It was wonderful to be back and see so many familiar faces and new friends as well. I didn’t even take any photos- just a couple of quick video clips. Just a little glimpse… I live streamed the clips on FB and didn’t save them… but available here if you want to view them on FB.

Today is November 8– (I probably won’t even complete this post to my satisfaction until tomorrow) but I hope you went out and voted! Here in Long Beach there are several wonderful true grassroots volunteer groups out there working hard at getting some great candidates elected against a very powerful and monied political machine. There is corruption. I don’t know how we’ll do, but we are hopeful. It’s taken a considerable amount of time and energy and decreased my ability to do the work I do here. I’m looking forward to more mental peace post election!
UPDATE>>> It’s now Wednesday and after a late night election watch party nearby, we all went home fairly accepting defeat to the machine and the overwhelming amount of $$ poured into machine candidate campaigns (by the scandalous LA Federation of Labor no less), only to be revived around midnight (once we all got home) with an update that put our candidate within 99 votes of a win…less than one % point! We may not have the final outcome until Friday, so we remain hopeful.

Back to the Museum… there’s a great exhibit there at the moment and I pulled a couple of photos and a vid for you. Remember back in July of this year when I did a post that featured Old Photos Of Japan referencing senninbari (1000 stitch belt)? Well there was one in the exhibit! I was so excited to see it. Partly because it hadn’t occurred to me that senninbari might have been made for soldiers in the Japanese concentration camps to send off with their men going to war for the United States. The exhibit is called Sutra And Bible and you can read about the exhibit here-it has been extended until Feb. 19th, 2023.

The exhibit reminds us too, that silk had a part to play in the establishment of the first Japanese colony in North America in 1869- by samurai families fleeing civil war in Japan.

Sutra and Bible is a fascinating look at the history of faith in the Japanese community and into their camp experience. A discovery of sutra stones brought to light the role that religion played in the lives of Japanese migrants in the US. The sutra stones themselves are beautiful and inscribed with portions of Buddhist sutra.

I also viewed in person the Ireicho- a sacred book listing over 125,000 names of people of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated in the camps.

beautiful and solemn


A quick note about October moons… I am late in finishing the last portion of them so if you are waiting, do not despair! I’m finishing them off today and getting them out tomorrow! Then on to November!

We had a great rainstorm yesterday and all my rain barrels are filled! there is plenty of catching up to do outside. I’m picking and sharing persimmons with the birds and squirrels again this year- plenty for all as usual. The behemoth cactus is STILL blooming! Not quite sure what to make of that. It’s been blooming since July I think which is a very long time-most ever as far as I can remember. Cactus and Dia de los Muertos, cactus fruit, and my daily friend in the studio.

Time and more time

I’m spending my time this week organizing for the upcoming workshops and pulling together teaching samples. There are many and I’m displaying them around the work space.

Also, finishing up a couple of things as inspiration for what one can do with the pieces that will be worked on during the dye and stitch sessions. Here is a bag I just finished with one of them. The exterior is all vintage and the interior lining is recycled. It’s really fun to give cloth a new life and make it into something “new” and useful. Another in the series of “Carry the Moon” bags I have made over time.

I’ve got a few things to clear off the decks today (Saturday) -like a couple shibori ribbon scrap bag orders, the last stragglers of the July moon circle cards, and some computer email communications. If you are reading this and are in any of the August in-studio workshops, you would have received the last details on attending the workshops and have been asked to reply and confirm. About half of you have-THANK YOU! The others have been emailed twice so far with no reply. I will do so once more and cross my fingers! Other than that, I will take time and try to search you out via social media and send you messages there. This all takes time that I really do need for other things… help a girl out and reply to your email confirmations! Thx…

“Other things” include tracking down a FedEx return from France that has been “on the way” for 30 days now! This order seems to have a curse on it. If you recall, I had sadly and mistakenly sent the wrong colors to a customer in France. We resolved the issue by my remaking the correct order and reshipping it while at the same time issuing a return label to have the wrong order returned to me. Package never returned after being picked up by FedEx at the customers location (and this only after several calls to fedex to go get the package). Fedex is now looking for it after weeks of me calling to check on it. Fedex shipping internationally is no joke either ($$$) so not only am I out the ribbon, I have spent hundreds in shipping to get it back. Yikes! It is going to take more time to resolve this and likely not in my favor. I will persist! Never before had a problem like this with FedEx. We shall see…

BUT- in today’s mail, I received these two beautiful embroidered silk moths from an artist in the Ukraine. So delicate and beautiful! I’m working on a piece that involves silk in all its permutations and these will be a lovely addition to it. I came across them through one of my Japanese sericulture contacts on Twitter.

Plus, I will be back to the Japanese American National Museum in early November with a workshop. stay tuned for details!

silk to senninbari

Today I’m preparing the fabrics for July moons. I’m kinda excited again about the cloth for this month’s moons. I enjoy deciding how to delight the moon circle each month. This time I went through my bins and chose a roll of something I’ve been saving and drooling over for YEARS! It’s silk tsumugi. But not just ANY old (and i mean old) silk tsumugi. This is the most lovely, drapey, thin, folk style cloth I’ve ever had the privilege of caretaking. It is completely hand spun and hand woven, undyed or treated in any way. In my mind I see a woman hand twisting the silk thread on her lap inside her small wooden home. It is uneven in places. Maybe she is new to the process or perhaps she knows the character which she imbues into the cloth from the wisdom of her past. But it is just wonderful. The silk floss might be what was left from her first rate cocoons- which were sold off to the local cooperative and sent off to be reeled at the filature mill. Who knows how long ago…I am just imagining here.

The cloth has texture, character, an uneven natural color in places. The warp is very, very fine reeled silk. Dressing a loom with this fine a silk must be an art in itself. There are slubs and tiny spots of darker threads in the weft which seem to me to be from discoloration of the cocoon by the silkworm. I hesitated to cut some of it for moons but I just can’t keep it all to myself. It must be shared. I happily imagine all the things it may be used for by those in the moon circle.

Some time back I did a meter or so of indigo shibori with some of this cloth for a garment. The shibori on the top right of the blog header above is some of that. It took the indigo like a dream!

The other moon this month is a departure of sorts. It’s also on old silk but on the scraps of a great and colorful silk meisen cloth that was one of the kimono pieces I remade with participants of the last Kimono Refashioning workshop. I’m enjoying putting these small bits of cloth in your hands for inspection and wondering.

I enjoy picking a style of moon I think will go with the character of the cloth.

Here I chose a straight forward circle for the meisen silk moon and a partial rough ombre moon for the tsumugi cloth.

I’m also preparing fabrics for the upcoming in studio August workshops. The shibori workshop is sold out with a waiting list. The Thursday August 4th workshop has one opening and the Sunday August 7th has 2 openings. Here is the link if you want to check it out. I spent the better part of today prepping all the vintage fabrics for these projects. I am dyeing the base pieces in the natural vat which is loving the warmer weather these days. I love sorting through all these fabrics and wondering about their past lives as well as imagining their future.
I’m setting up the “alumni reunion” for those that were in either session of the Refashioning Kimono workshops. Look for the date in your email inbox.

I have had several requests for new dates for both the Refashioning Kimono workshop as well as the Komebukuro Treasure Bag workshop. These new sessions will begin in late August and September. Look for dates in the next blog post.

In addition to the moons for the moon circle, I was inspired to do a bunch of these moons. I recently saw some new images of the planet Venus from NASA. Pretty amazing!

new images of the planet Venus

That reminded me of some hand dyed fabric I had bought several years ago in Houston. I used some of it to repair the couch cushions but I had some left over that I used for Venus inspired moons. There wasn’t enough fabric for the monthly moon circles so I just put them into the shop here.

I’ll end this post with a referral once again to the blog Old Photos of Japan and Kjeld’s recent post titled 1930’s Off to War. Another well researched and interesting post about being conscripted and sent off to war in Japan and how it was “celebrated” by the families and the public. It was the first of two times this past month where I came across the term senninbari or thousand person stitches. I had not known about this and it’s another way to honor the cloth and the stitch. He has a wonderful ukiyoe he came across depicting a scene of a kimono clad woman collecting the stitched knots in public at a temple. The images depicting this practice have dots marking the position where the knots are to be stitched much like the kanoko shibori dots that are marked with aobana. A really great post. I hope you go visit his site and support his fantastic work!
He includes this clip of a film with a “song for senninbari as well, Aikoku Senninbari (愛国千人針, Patriotic Thousand Person Stitches), released in 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War. In this clip of women collecting stitches on the street, you can hear part of the song as sung by Junko Mikado (三門順子, 1915–1954).

textile detective continued…

Now that the holidays are over, and the sun is back out after some very much needed rain, I’m back to finish off the mystery of the silk fabric from the obi I was deconstructing here.
As you may or may not recall, there was a question as to whether the sateen silk backing of this obi was a cloth woven of silk and paper which would have been very rare. I sent a bit to my friend Velma who makes shifu and she pointed out that she could not detect any “seeds” in the weft threads as she unwove them. The seeds would be where “the strips are joined in one continuous thread by tearing a small tab of paper from the connecting strip above two threads. This tab is rolled in the same direction you intend to spin the thread creating the “seed”. This seed is one of the most notable characteristics of paper thread, and forms a unique pattern in the final woven cloth.” See here for attribution of this explanation and more about shifu.

I too had unwoven a bit more of the weft and looked at it more closely seeing that the fiber did actually look more like a cotton or hemp than paper. I did another burn test on the warp just to make sure and it really did smell like cellulose and not protein fiber-confirmed!

I also received back a reply from the Kyoto Shibori Museum who sent me the following interesting reply:
“It looks like an obi made a long time ago.The Japanese embroidery is very beautiful, and I think it’s hard to see anything like this now. The red stamp part is usually stamped with the weight of the fabric, the name of the manufacturer, the place of origin, etc., but it cannot be identified here. The kanji woven into the silk can be read as KAMI GO. It could be the name of the manufacturer/weaver or the title given to this particular obi.
KAMI means God and GO is the name of an ancient Chinese country. Japanese kimono is also called GOHUKU, but it means the kimono that GO people came to when the shape of the kimono came from China to Japan.

The best guess at a date would be late Meiji- early Showa. So around 100 years old.

I have been wondering what fabric I would use for the January Moon of the Month Circle. To begin the year and the Moon of the Month Circle, I will be sending both moons using this beautiful obi silk lining. Can’t wait to get to the vat and make them!

A couple more projects claimed the workspace in December. first, a not so auspicious
t-shirt quilt I have been threatening/promising to make for my son trevor going on ten years now! When he went off to college and cleaned out his dresser, there were a lot of favorite t-shirts going back even to co-op preschool days. There were memories from music camps, summer camps, marching bands, favorite pokemon,surf and skate brands, and even their own rock band from when they were kids. I had cut out the graphics and backed them with a lightweight fusible and there they sat, stacked and ready to go. Over time he added a few more from college music groups, shinkendo, and Japan. As I cleared out some of the workspace I decided that THIS was the year I would finish it. I spent two days stitching them together, backing, quilting (by machine), and self binding it. Done! It’s a fun ride from preschool through college in addition to being a utilitarian quilt made with recycled fabrics. The first photo he sent me of its use had a big fluffy cat sitting on it- success!

The other project is still ongoing but I think I solved a dilemma that had been plaguing me for a while. I made this piece -a bit of an ode to fabric scraps and stitches and wasn’t sure if or how I wanted to back it. I always like the back of a stitched work-maybe just out of my own curiosity. But this has sat there feeling a bit unfinished and finally it ended up sitting next to some lovely old red lining silk. The jacquard pattern woven into the very very fine red silk are beautiful cranes with florals and vines. This auspicious pattern was probably for a wedding kimono lining or some other important kimono lining. It’s a full bolt but disassembled and stitched back into a continuous length. I decided I didn’t want to cut it to fit the width of my piece- it would ruin the full pattern. So I decided to stitch it into a tube at the proper width to stitch the lining to the back of my piece. This way, should someone ever want to reuse this beautiful silk, all you would have to do would be to unstitch it. Kind of like a kimono. Something from the Amuse Boro Museum rings in my head at times like this.

2015 Asakusa, Japan Amuse Boro Museum
i imagine sericulturist feeding the kaiko, the silkworms spitting this thread, the dyers dying the thread, the pattern designer graphing out the pattern for the loom cards, the weavers weaving… imagine what the silkworm provided!

The sun has come out here and is drying the outdoor workspace after all the rain. The snow has covered our local mountains and the new year begins with this wonderful view and hope for a year of drought recovery. About a million poppy seeds and bachelor buttons have sprouted in every nook and cranny in the backyard!

Case of the textile detective…

Here I have to tell a little of the back story to this old obi. Previously I had blogged about taking Ann Wasserman’s online workshop on quilt repair and restoration (see her blog here). I had found her online while doing some research on the crazy quilt I named Ida Belle. (while I was editing this post, Ann put up a new blog post about her latest repair/conservation quilt-a wool crazy quilt. You can see a video of her talking about it here.) In getting to know Ann a bit via email, we discovered we were quite harmonious when it came to cloth and textiles. Even Jude’s name came up as we were both early enthusiasts of Spirit Cloth (currently in wordlessly watching mode until after the New Year). In our conversations, she mentioned that she had some Japanese silk fabric that had been gifted to her many years ago and that she had no idea what to do with it or even what it was. She sent some images and asked me to look at it.

From the images she sent me, my guess was that it was an obi. It had a couple of areas of highly embroidered florals over some shibori along with large lengths of blank undecorated areas. There was what appeared to be a fold line down the center and the length of the piece indicated that it was an obi. At this point, Ann asked me if I would “adopt” it and do what I thought was best with the piece. I agreed, thinking that it would serve as a nice sample of shibori with beautiful embroidery for future in person workshops (hoping I get back to that eventually!). As you can probably guess, someone like Ann is often given and asked to “adopt” a fair amount of textiles but this one was outside of her particular realm.

When it arrived here, I looked it over and took a few of my own photos. I noticed a couple of things right away. First off, the shibori work is really very sophisticated. It impresses me that way where the the use of dyes fades into the background to give the very subtle feeling of distance. The silk used here is chirimen. Shibori techniques used are kanoko (fawn spot), boshi (capped resist), and makiage (stitched motif). I had a couple of questions so I also sent an email to the director of the Kyoto Shibori Museum. (Their latest youtube video is wonderful!) It’s obvious that the shibori was done with the final embroidery in mind. The embroidery! Wow… very beautiful nihon shishu.
I noticed that this shishu has a fairly high “loft”. I asked another friend, Mary Alice in Houston, who teaches this form of Japanese embroidery (you can find her online here) and she said that sometimes the older versions of this were padded underneath. What I ultimately discovered was that there are two layers of silk stitching (one perpendicular to the other) that provide this padding.


What I conclusively decided was that I would disassemble this obi. I decided this for a couple of reasons. The folding and storage were doing it no favors. Storage to me is “out of sight, out of mind”. I like things to be enjoyed and used. So I began to unstitch this beautifully hand stitched obi…and discover its secrets.

If you attended last week’s Komebukuro Treasure bag workshop “check in /hang out” session, after the questions and progress sharing was over, I shared my obi disassembling project. At the time I was about 3/4 through the unstitching. At that time I shared both the front and the back of the amazing embroidery. The back is also amazing and shows the wonderful and tiny stitches used to couch down the gold leafed silk threads. Goldwork embroidery is done using a core thread (usually silk or cotton) that is wrapped with a fine layer of gold leaf. Couching is the main way this thread is used as (I’m guessing) you wouldn’t want to pass this delicate gold thread through the cloth over and over. Couching is done in any number of colored silk threads for contrast and results depending on the embroiderer’s desired artistic outcome.

SInce that session, I have finished taking this piece apart and and discovered something very wonderful. The back side of the obi seemed a little odd to me. The front side of the fabric was very much a sateen-shiny with lots of long silk floats in the weave. However, the back was very matte and had an odd texture. Looking at it with a jewelers loop it was obvious that the warp and the weft were very different fibers. Unweaving a section of an end was in order! The warp was composed of very many fine silk threads. I carefully removed several rows of the much thicker and dull weft threads and did a burn test. Cellulose for sure. Then there was the issue of the feel of this textile. So papery… so I started searching online. I was slipping down another rabbit hole!

I started by searching for shifu, which is a textile woven of paper threads. My friend Velma sent me search for Susan Byrd who wrote the book A Song of Praise for Shifu – Shifu Sanka as well as made a wonderful video on preparing the thread for weaving. I’ve followed Velma for many years and have been amazed at her work and her blog, Wake Robin. I have sent her a piece to look at and give me her thoughts. After doing some reading it seems that it is likely kinujifu (kinu meaning silk and jifu, the word for shifu-paper cloth- when attached to the word kinu) if the weft thread is in fact paper. I did do a sample moon dyeing and when the fabric was wetting out, it curled up like crazy into a tight curl. I haven’t seen that before…


Even if it doesn’t turn out to be kinujifu, I have learned SO MUCH!

this mark of the weaver was woven into the end of the sateen piece

The center of the obi is a stiff cloth called obi shin. In many old obi the center layer is made of old cloth patched together. In fancier old obi, a special thick woven cotton cloth is used. Now days, manufactured obi shin is widely available and I’m not sure what they are made of. Perhaps cotton, perhaps poly. But over the course of time, I have collected and used a variety of old obi shine. I have made many of the moon bags from them as they have a great texture and character as well as being very sturdy. They were also often discarded and I was finding them at flea markets in Japan so someone was saving them. Part of the problem with storing these old obi with thick obi shin is that in the humidity of Japan, they tend to become damp and don’t dry easily if improperly stored. This collected moisture can easily mildew and stain (sometimes called foxing) the exterior obi fabrics. Such is the case here and there with this obi. I also moon dyed a piece of the obi shin. it dyed beautifully…

As I look at the fabric from this obi (now temporarily rolled onto three large kimono rolls), I think the best thing for the embroidery portions will be to conserve them flat in museum grade glass with UV protection. My thought is to frame the embroidery with a border of the silk/cellulose fabric. It would be great to frame it so the back side of the embroidery is visible. The main embroidery would go to Ann of course and the lesser one I would keep for a workshop sample. It just makes sense to preserve them this way unless anyone here has another idea-I’d love to hear it.

After all this, I am reminded that I have so many talented and knowledgeable friends that share the love and interest in textiles, preservation, and craft. It is truly a bounty of riches created over time!
Now if you have the time and interest- go grab a cuppa and come back to enjoy some of the links and videos noted within. There is a lot to take in!

Don’t forget, there is a new workshop forming for the 2022 Komebukuro Treasure Bags – details here.